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NASA Plans Return to Moon by 2018 - NASA Unveils New Crew Exploration Vehicle

Something Old, Something New


An engineering concept shows NASA's new heavy lift and crew launch vehicles.

An engineering concept shows NASA's new heavy lift and crew launch vehicles.

Building on the best of Apollo and shuttle technology, NASA's 21st century exploration system will be affordable, reliable, versatile and safe. At its heart is a new spacecraft designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crewmembers on future missions to Mars, and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station. The new crew vehicle will be shaped like an Apollo capsule, but it will be three times larger, allowing four astronauts to travel to the moon at a time.

Power and fuel for the new system will be different from ships of the past. Solar panels will provide power to the new craft while both the capsule and lunar lander use liquid methan in their engines. This is a very forward thinking part of the new design, looking towards the day when explorers will be able to convert Martian atmosphere into methane fuel.

Unlike the current space shuttle (which was designed for orbital use only), the new ship can only be reused up to 10 times. After the craft parachutes to dry land (with a splashdown as a backup option), NASA can easily recover it, replace the heat shield and launch it again.

Bigger Crew - More Fuel

Coupled with the new lunar lander, the system sends twice as many astronauts to the surface as Apollo, and they can stay longer, with the initial missions lasting four to seven days. And while Apollo was limited to landings along the moon's equator, the new ship carries enough propellant to land anywhere on the moon's surface.

Once a lunar outpost is established, crews could remain on the lunar surface for up to six months. The spacecraft can also operate without a crew in lunar orbit, eliminating the need for one astronaut to stay behind while others explore the surface.

"This spacecraft and its systems will build upon the foundation of the proven designs and technologies used in the Apollo and space shuttle programs, while having far greater capability," Griffin said. "It will be able to carry larger and heavier cargos into space and allow more people to stay on the moon for longer periods of time."

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